If Alberta's conservatives imagined U.S. President Donald Trump's decision immediately after his election last November to push the Keystone XL Pipeline project forward would provide an opening for them to attack the Alberta NDP government's policy of building social license for export development, they now need to re-examine their assumptions.
With his recent decision to attack Canadian trade -- and his inclusion of energy along with milk, cheese and lumber on his grocery list of grievances -- President Trump has risked ruining his Canadian fellow travellers' strategy.
Both Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean have always been quick to point to any opposition by environmentalists in British Columbia, aging stars in Hollywood or whomever wherever as evidence that trying to earn social license from citizens of other jurisdictions to get Alberta's oil to world markets is a lost cause.
As an alternative -- apparently the only alternative acceptable to conservatives -- they always propose going back to the time-honoured Tory strategy of shoving it up the nose of anyone who stands in their way, never mind their notable lack of success trying to do just that through all the years their man Stephen Harper ran things in Ottawa.
A keystone of this argument, as it were, was that it was the mercurial, climate-denying reality TV POTUS that the whole world now has to learn to live with who gave us Albertans the pipeline we wanted -- so we don't need no stinkin' social license!
Now Trump has gone and demonstrated just how dangerous it can be to assume you can rely on one single market to sell the product that remains the mainstay of Alberta’s economy. This is true even though it's completely murky what the heck it is Trump is complaining about when it comes to energy, massive sales of which are locked in at terms favourable to the United States by the trade agreement the president finds so disagreeable.
We'd better get to work to build some social license if we expect the economy of this place to keep running long enough to manage the transition to a difficult-to-imagine post-carbon future that is assuredly coming whether Trump, Kenney and Jean think it is or not.
Premier Rachel Notley did not miss the opportunity to state the obvious, pointing out to reporters during her recent trade mission to China that the president’s ramblings are that much more evidence for the need to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline to the West Coast so Alberta oil can reach overseas markets through Canada.
And that simply isn't going to happen without a little more social license than we have right now, as conservatives of various stripes keep pointing out -- and as may become even more obvious on May 9, depending on the results of the B.C. provincial election.
I would say this makes Notley's point in a way that even die-hard supporters of Kenney and Jean should be able to comprehend, although I'm not optimistic.
Meanwhile, Canadian conservatives who have been cheering Trump since before his election, really need to think carefully about how that is going to look now that the U.S. president appears set to provoke a trade war with Canada because … well, we're not actually sure why.
In particular, conservative Canadian politicians who crossed the border to campaign for Trump and other Republicans should probably be thinking about what to say when the issue comes up at all-candidates' meetings in future election campaigns.
Because, believe me, it's going to come up! Believe me! Many, many times. So many times!
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.